Negative marketing can produce great advertising

I’ve never been a big fan of negative marketing.  I don’t believe that slinging mud at your competitor is a sustainable brand positioning, and there is no doubt that you can build awareness of your competitor instead of your own brand.

Years ago, you may recall, Mercedes Benz ran a TV commercial based on the true story of a driver who, having fallen asleep at the wheel, drove off Chapman’s Peak Drive and hurtled down the cliff, escaped virtually unhurt.

BMW immediately responded with an ad showing their car serenely gliding around the hazardous bends of Chapman’s Peak Drive, and the headline:  “BMW beats the Bends”.

All very witty, and topical too, but every time they ran the ad, they reminded their audience of their competitor’s safety record, even in serious accidents.

More currently, FNB’s “Steve” campaign has certainly been highly effective, and reports of customer conversion rates are impressive.  (Though this has, no doubt, been helped in no small measure by an extensive media budget.)

But “Steve” also represents all that is bad about customer service; he’s negative, hates his job and he whines constantly.  And he is inextricably tied to FNB.

But there’s no question that shared pain can build a relationship.  If you can find the one thing about your category that’s a source of irritation, dislike or frustration to your target market, you can capitalise on that to to bond with them.

It is possible to use negative marketing in a way that is not alienating and that doesn’t irritate.  Here, in two TV commercials, an Australian dairy products company effectively highlights their point of difference, but they also use humour to build an emotional bond.

Yes, this is negative marketing, but it’s emotional marketing too.  And that, together with world-class execution of the concept, is what makes this a great campaign.

Which commercial did you like best?



  1. Ginny on May 15, 2013 at 18:14

    Negative but not irritating, that’s the trick.
    Simple single-minded functional promise, creating emotional empathy.
    Best this started with a great client brief!

  2. Joan Stewart on May 15, 2013 at 15:39

    Hi Ann,

    The second ad is the one with better impact marketing IMHO – would have been fun if the child had tasted the milk to agree with Dad to round off though!

    Negative marketing works if there is a twist of humour attached.

    • Ann Druce on May 17, 2013 at 11:45

      Hi Joan,

      I prefer the first one, but that’s the point – the two ads are both appealing and it’s just a matter of personal preference.

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